The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has slammed Secretary of State Brandon Lewis for the “disrespectful” and “arrogant” appointment of Trevor Ringland as the first Special Envoy to the United States on Northern Ireland.
Her party colleague Francie Molloy also accused the politician of acting like a “viceroy of old” over the decision.
The move was announced by the UK on Sunday, with Brandon Lewis saying the former Ireland rugby international would work with US firms and investors to “build on established links and support Northern Ireland’s long term economic development”.
Mr Ringland is a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives and is also a former Ulster Unionist. He will be tasked with building economic ties between the two nations while providing political influence in Washington.
Criticising the move, Michelle O’Neill said the decision had been done without consultation with the Executive and said she will be raising the issue with the politician.
“Brandon Lewis’ decision to unilaterally make such an appointment directly relating to the North’s interests and priorities without consulting the democratically mandated Executive smacks of Tory arrogance and disrespect,” she said.
“That is not an acceptable way of doing business.
“The Executive has a permanent diplomatic mission based in Washington DC which comprises civil servants under the auspices of The Executive Office.
“It has proven to be effective and we do not need interference from the Tories in how we engage with the US administration, Congress, or the Irish-American community.
“I consider this announcement to be yet another attempt by this Tory Government to undermine devolution, locally elected Ministers and our institutions of government.”
The outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed Mr Ringland into the post, saying she wishes him “every success in this new role”.
"I hope he can help some in the US understand better the views of people in NI and out place within the UK,” she tweeted.
New Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie wrote online: “This is a fantastic position and opportunity for Northern Ireland and no better than Trevor Ringland MBE to fulfill it.
"We need more engagement not less.”
In a statement, the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said: “I am delighted that Trevor has accepted my invitation to take up this position to represent the UK Government in Northern Ireland, working to support its best interests in the United States.
"This is an exciting new appointment and recognises Northern Ireland’s unique relationship with the United States and its people. I look forward to working with Trevor to harness all the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Trevor Ringland said he was “honoured” to take on the role.
"I very much look forward to supporting the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in ensuring the UK Government’s policies on Northern Ireland are well represented to US audiences and playing my part in forging deeper political, social and economic ties between our two countries,” he added.